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John Jennings: Industry Legend

It is with a very heavy heart that we have to report that our great friend, EHN contributor, Executive Hire Show Passionate Hirer Awards Lead Judge, not to mention well-known and highly respected Midlands independent hirer, John Jennings died in the early hours of Friday 11 November after a long and brave battle with cancer. He was 71, and had served our industry for over 50 years.

After a period working in plant distribution for International Harvester, in 1964 John joined Coventry-based hirer Sterling Plant, thus setting out on his five decades of service to our industry. By the late 1970s, he had set up Alljay Tool Hire, based in Rugby. He sold this business to contractor Deeley Group in 1990, which merged it with Clements Plant - which Deeley had owned since 1967 - and re-branded the new operation as Clements Alljay, with John becoming Managing Director. The company expanded into the self-propelled access market in 1996 with the acquisition of Thumb-a-Lift of Leamington Spa, and then in January 2007 he led a Management Buy Out with his new business partner Jim Longstaff. John served as Chairman until retiring and selling his shareholding to Jim in July last year, as his health deteriorated.

Having known John since 1995, Jim relates that John became a mentor and a confidante. “Who would have thought that years later I would be sitting with him negotiating the Management Buy Out of Clements. With John as Chairman he took on the daunting task of taking a business with over 40 years of history to the next stage with an inexperienced business partner. Little did we both realise what we had let ourselves in for, as the worst recession in modern history was soon upon us.

“Without any shadow of doubt, Clements would have failed had it not been for John’s level head and analytical approach - guiding, cajoling and encouraging the team’s efforts. He had the ability to be calm and incisive at the key moments and we all benefitted from his council on numerous occasions. John could be inspiring, infuriating, hilarious and caring and this dichotomy of styles epitomised the individual.”

John was also a founding member of Hire Association Europe, and served as its Chairman in 1994/5. He also held various other positions within HAE, and served on CPA and IPAF committees over a 30 year period.

John Jennings’ role, however, that we will best remember him for is - and we are revealing this for the first time – that he has been our very own Crosshire columnist for the last 19 years. Crosshire was many readers’ ‘Go to’ page as soon as EHN landed on their desks or in their inbox.

John Jennings empathised so strongly with hirers’ daily experiences and challenges. Everything John wrote about was inspired by incidents and developments that took place within his own hire experience. And his cast of characters, from Big Fred and Young Arnold, to Rocket Raymond and Samantha, were based on real-life colleagues.

John’s passion for our hire industry was so genuine. He wrote about values and standards that were important to him, whether it was his long-standing call to resist rate-cutting, or the need to ensure proper training of all team members, from workshop fitters to hire managers. And he had a healthy disdain for red tape and bureaucracy.

John made Crosshire into an agenda-setting column for our industry. He asked hirers to challenge the CITB Levy, and successfully urged readers to sign an on-line petition to the Government to change the law and ban cash transactions for scrap metal. In his own name, John wrote extended pieces on changes to regulations governing the supply of red diesel, as well as on new laws on trailers and towing, and he also contributed to our Hand Arm Vibration series of articles in the 2000s. All in all, he was a very accomplished writer.

As someone who set the highest standards in his own business, John was the ideal person to chair the panel of judges when we launched our Executive Hire Show Passionate Hirer Awards in 2008. He was meticulous in his dealings with each Finalist in the Awards, and each was measured fairly and equally

according to his selected criteria. Many Finalists, irrespective of how well they fared in the judging process, told us that John’s visits represented one of the most-searching experiences of their careers. They couldn’t hide any of their company’s flaws from John, because he knew where to look for them.

As Crosshire, John had the ability to make us laugh out loud with some of his turns of phrase, whether it was his description of driver Rocket Raymond’s habit of spending his tacho rest break in a local lay-by at ‘the hot dog and salmonella van’, or his comment on an errant supplier that ‘he’s not worth a blow on the Ragman’s trumpet’.

John Jennings’ blend of serious debate and robust good humour reflected our industry, in particular, and life in general. He is a great loss. An industry legend, he richly deserves this upgrade from our last page to this very first page.

• Our new column ‘In the spirit of Crosshire’kicks off on its usual page.

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